Guest Post, Labor, Michigan Democrats, Michigan Republicans — February 12, 2015 at 7:27 am

GUEST POST: We Need Paid Sick Leave Because Workers Are Humans First


The following post was originally posted at Ramona’s Voices. Note that there is an ask at the end of this post: several groups are looking for stories from workers both who have and don’t have paid sick leave with their jobs. Please check out the links and share your stories.

There’s a fuss going on in Michigan over whether the state should mandate paid sick leave for all workers. It’s the Democrats who are proposing it but the Republicans dominate the government, so at this point it’s not a question of winning the issue, it’s a question of how far their bill gets before it fails. (The sad backstory: This same bill was first introduced in 2012. The Republicans made sure it didn’t get to committee for consideration. It was reintroduced in 2013. Same story. Now, in 2015, the Dems, bless their hearts, are trying again.)

I’m a pessimist when it comes to the Republican mode of governing anything, but I’m also a realist. The Republicans (and, to be fair, some Democrats) will always come down on the side of business whenever the issue of worker equity comes up. That’s because business is where the money lies and money begets power. It’s the climate we’re in until we decide on climate change.

The quick statistics are these: Just under half of all workers in Michigan now have to take sick days without pay. The new law, if passed, would affect more than a million workers, both full and part time. The Democratic bill about to be introduced in both the Michigan Senate and the House “would require employers to offer one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours a person works. For somebody working 40 hours a week, that would equate to 69.3 hours or 8.7 standard eight-hour work days of sick leave per year. It would apply to both part-time and full-time employees.”

We’re talking, at best, about nine paid sick days a year. One nasty bout of flu could take up half of them. It’s not an outrageous proposal.

The Republicans saw this coming and came up with an answer to the bill–the House Republican Action Plan. The first order of business, following the governor’s “relentless positive action” ( their words, not mine) is to kill the state’s prevailing wage law. (I admit I’m shocked this law is still in effect. It guarantees certain workers the same wages and benefits as their union counterparts. I can’t imagine how it was overlooked when Michigan became a Right-to-Work state, but never mind: They’ve caught it now.)

Their second O of B was to address paid sick days/leave:

Eliminating Local Ordinances That Hinder Job Creation: Municipal ordinances governing wages and benefits known as “sick pay ordinances” institute rules and regulations on local employers in providing sick pay to their employees. Many job providers are fearful such local actions hinder job creation. Legislative efforts will be taken to ensure local ordinances are not more restrictive than state standard.

So the state, as if there isn’t enough to do, is now taking on the task of eliminating any local job ordinances that don’t fit their idea of “none is good”. If, let’s say, Solidarity City decides to consider the fact that most employees are human beings and not machines and comes up with a plan where those human beings can’t be penalized for having messy lives that might require their being at home instead of at work, that’s a good thing, right? We’re all for home and families, right?

As might be expected, business owners are lining up behind the Republicans, expressing their outrage at such a blatant attempt to strip them of their earnings by forcing them to pay sick people while they’re sick! (I’ll just insert here the fact that there were decades upon decades wherein most employees were guaranteed paid sick days. But we had unions then.)

In this AP story out of Lansing:

The Michigan Restaurant Association says it opposes “one-size-fits-all mandates.” The group says restaurants have “thrived without the added costs and intrusions of labor unions.”

To which I say, wouldn’t it be great if slavery were still in vogue? (Hard to take any restaurant association seriously when they’re A-okay with waitstaff working for $3.10 an hour plus tips. So we’ll move on.)

So let’s talk a minute:

Employees, we can agree that if you need this job you’re pretty much screwed if your kids get sick or if you get sick or your partner gets sick or your house burns down or someone in your family dies and your employer not only won’t pay you for the days when you need to be at home, but says, “I need you here at work, and if you can’t do the job I’ll find someone else who can.” So hang on a minute while I go talk to your employers. Be right back.

Employers, when you hired these employees you must have seen, the moment they entered your space, that they were living, breathing human beings with lives that fill each 24-hour period completely. If you know anything about yourself, you could probably, if you wanted to, relate to their humanness. You have a family, they have a family. You get sick, they get sick. Something happens that keeps you from coming in to work. Something happens that keeps them from coming in to work. But here, you insist, the similarities end. You get paid for the days you’re away. Too bad about them.

But that’s not enough, is it? You expect such loyalty from your workers you allow yourself to believe that any calamity that might befall your employee is a direct insult to you. How could they do this, especially now, when they know you need them right here, right now!

Where is your loyalty to them? You’ve built a business that you can’t run on your own. You hire people because you need them. They come to work for you because they need you. They don’t become your personal property because you’ve hired them. You have entered into a mutual agreement and that agreement requires a mutual commitment. An obligation. You’re both human and all your good intentions may fall be the wayside now and then, but the mutual agreement still stands. You need them and they need you. You’re in this together.

So get over yourself and open your eyes to the needs of the people who work for you. Pay them what the job is worth and never make them have to decide between pressing personal needs and their paycheck. Trust them. The majority will always do the right thing.

Workers, are you still with me? There are groups that are working to get this bill passed. They need your help. They want your input, your stories. Are your sick days paid? Unpaid? What has happened to you because of it? Take a minute, please, and show them some support. They’re working hard for you.

In Michigan:

Mothering Justice


Paid Sick Days

National Partnership

[CC image via Wikimedia Commons]